New year, new government: The outlook for Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network

14 Jan 2020 |Written by Sam Green


New year, new Government. Boris Johnson found success in breaking the Labour Party’s monopoly in many of the northern constituencies, helping the Conservative Party to enter the new decade with a landslide parliamentary majority.

His primary concern will be to deliver on the Conservative’s election slogan and ‘get Brexit done’ by 31 January 2020, and whilst the Withdrawal Agreement still leaves much of the future UK-EU relationship to be negotiated, it might well signal the end of the beginning.

This will allow the focus to shift on to domestic policy. The Government will be keen to retain the support of their new constituencies, many of which voted Conservative for the first time. With the Chancellor declaring an end to austerity, there may be good news ahead for the community sector.

Here is what we can expect to see over the course of the next Parliament in the key policy areas for Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network.

Digital skills, inclusion and further learning

The Conservatives have pledged to cover the UK with ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband services by 2025, spending £5bn to support provision in the 20% hardest to reach areas.

Access to the internet clearly relies on broadband coverage - but even with faster pipes, there will still be people who won’t be able to use it. Alongside investment in infrastructure, we need investment in skills so that everyone is able to access the benefits the internet has to offer.

A new £3bn National Skills Fund has been announced as a step towards what the Conservatives have called the ‘Right to Retrain’ for all adults. Their manifesto pledged to ‘invest in Britain’s people by giving them the tools and training to flourish in the economy of the 21st century’. In an election which saw cross-party consensus that there is a skills gap that needs addressing, it’s likely that this will be a policy area where the Government will be keen to make a mark.

Since there are 4.1 million adults who have never been online in the UK, and a staggering 11.9 million people who lack Essential Digital Skills, we will be working with the Government to ensure that digital skills remain a priority, and that the Online Centres Network continues to play an important role in provision. Through our Future Digital Inclusion programme funded by the Department for Education, we’ve helped more than 3 million people learn basic digital skills since 2014.

Health

The NHS was a key focus of the election campaign, with all parties battling it out to be seen as champions of the health service. Brexit aside, this is likely to be the Government’s main priority, and early legislation will give the NHS a £33.9 billion increase by 2023-24.

Matt Hancock has returned to his role as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. With previous experience as both Digital Minister and Skills Minister, the Secretary of State is a strong advocate for digital. NHSX, the digital arm of the health service, was launched early last year.

We can expect to see the Government ramp up the digitisation of health services and deliver on the NHS Long Term Plan, with digital-first primary care becoming a new option for patients. Appointments and prescriptions will continue to be digitised and the NHS App will be developed to create a digital NHS ‘front door’.

Of course, people can only reap the benefits of a digitised health tools if they have the confidence and capabilities to use them. Working with the NHS, we have been developing more than 20 pathfinders that model ways to engage and support the most excluded groups across England.

One of the first pathfinder projects in Sheffield involved supporting people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma to use digital tools to improve the management of their health conditions. We will continue to champion the role of community organisations in reducing health inequalities, and in working with the more formal health service within communities.

Online harms

Harmful content - including disinformation (or ‘fake news’) and extremist propaganda - has exploded with the rise of social media. In the Queen’s speech, the Government confirmed that making the UK the safest place in the world to be online will be a priority.

Legislation will be shaped by the recommendations of the Online Harms White Paper, which was published in April 2019 and received cross-party support. It calls for the establishment of a new statutory duty of care for companies to take more responsibility for their users’ online safety, and the creation of a new regulator to enforce it.

Through our online safety course on Learn My Way, our learning platform, we help people to be safe online. Of the 4.1 million people who have never used the internet, 60% say that they are offline because they’re worried about their identity being taken. The hyper-local organisations in the Online Centres Network know their communities very well, and can offer face-to-face support to help people gain the confidence they need to overcome fears of encountering online harms.

At Good Things Foundation, we’ll continue to work closely with our partners across the political spectrum and in a range of departments to ensure we can continue to support those who are digitally and socially excluded, as well as the community organisations in the Online Centres Network who are on the frontline of providing this crucial support.